Coffee culture in Vietnam

by Expat Life

Dark, rich, thick and creamy with a heavy, deep chocolate aroma. hot or iced. 

Vietnamese coffee culture has been around for decades. In most of the cities here in Vietnam, you’re never more than a block away from a street coffee seller, and it’s more than likely that they are selling from the front room or garden of their homes. Although most street sellers won’t be selling any fancy, skinny caramel mocha-Frappuccino’s, vanilla macchiatos or affogatos, the Vietnamese have been enjoying and perfecting, coffee good enough to compete against these western favourites since the French colonisation in the late 19th century. Since then, the economic growth thanks to the coffee grown here, means that Vietnam is now one of the world’s largest coffee exporters. Now famous for its coffee culture, Vietnam grows many types of coffee from the bold Robusta to the aromatic Arabica and along with the mass coffee farming, there is an abundance of coffee shops, cafes and workspaces sprouting up across the country.

If you’re looking for reviews on large, fancypants, franchised coffee chains in the same wheelhouse as Highlands Coffee and Cộng Cà Phê then stop reading now, this piece isn’t for you. However, if you want proper Vietnamese hot drinks made with love, then stick with me and I’ll reveal the treats of the Vietnamese coffee culture and the most tantalising places to try them here in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital.

There’s more than just your traditional Vietnamese coffee to try, with coffee for all moods, meetings and weather types. So, prepare to be indulged in the wonderful world of Vietnamese coffee.

Traditional Vietnamese coffee

These are no normal coffees, so prepare to feel supercharged. But as with most, you can order them hot or iced. These outrageously strong coffees will have you feeling pumped and ready to go. Perfect for a catch up with friends or to begin working on that personal project you’ve been putting off for months!

For the real experience, hot concentrated coffee is tantalisingly dripped through a ‘Phin’ and into a small glass with condensed milk waiting at the bottom, creating a fine balance between sharp bitterness and a soothing sweetness. Phin’s are a special Vietnamese filter, usually made of metal and with no need for filter papers, they’re much more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective – what V5? 

After meeting a friend recently, who had enjoyed two coffees before we met, she was shaking, which is not an unusual side effect of this energising elixir. Use with caution!

The most popular, traditional Vietnamese coffees created through this Phin drip method that you will come across are Bạc Xĩu and Cà Phê Sữa Đá.

Cà Phê Sữa Đá – A glass of mighty strong, dark roasted coffee with condensed milk. Served on the smaller side when compared to your typical Americano. Small, but mighty. Let the bitterness dry your mouth and the condensed milk coat it with sweetness. This type of coffee is a hit when you need that instantaneous energy boost. Can be served hot or dripped onto ice. 

Enjoy these at roadside street vendors. Exhausted from seeing the sights and shopping? Take a break amidst the hussle and bussle of the crowded streets of Hanoi and immerse yourself in the coffee culture Vietnamese style. Alternatively, another serene place to enjoy a Sua Da is Ta Ca Phe. Located at the end of an already quiet street in a small cove, nestled amongst a collection of small independent businesses, Ta’s is a great place for getting work done. With its simplistic, yet pleasing interior design and open outdoor area; sip your coffee, focus your mind and power on.

Name: Ta Ca Phe

Location: 41 Tay Ho Street, Quang An

Price: $$

Bạc Xĩu – Sweet dreams are made of these. A little less coffee than the cà phê sữa đá but instead with a more generous amount of condensed milk, usually enjoyed in a taller glass with a lot of ice. Less concentrated with more milk; coffee without the intensity. Similar to that of a sweet latte to the Europeans. As with the Cà Phê Sữa Đás, you can enjoy these from any street vendor. However, Tapies, a hidden coffee den is where you can really appreciate these. Duck behind its wonderfully green hanging plants and enter their cosy coffee haven. Their welcoming service and unique, handmade metal furniture give it a feel like no other. The coffee is smooth and aromatic, made perfectly every time.

Name: Tapies

Location: 111A Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho

Price: $

Coconut Coffee (Cà Phê Cốt Dừa)

Everywhere you go in Vietnam you’ll find coconuts. Used for a wide range of products from kitchenware and cooking ingredients to beauty products and gardening. The world’s gone wild for coconuts!

Coconut coffees can be found in most places across Vietnam but are particularly popular in Hanoi and Saigon, the finish, however, ranges by place and request. The sweetness of the condensed milk and the velvety coconut milk used softens the intense bitterness of Vietnamese coffee. Usually, they’re made with blended ice, sweetened creamy coconut milk and topped with a shot of coffee. However, if you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a coconut coffee, sprinkled with crunchy coconut chips. To treat yourself or for weekend vibes, enjoy them drizzled with a shot of Whiskey or Baileys! Alternatively, you may happen upon one of the few cafes which also offer a hot coconut coffee, delightfully different in flavour to the iced version but much more soul-soothing on a cold or misty day.

For hands-down, the best iced-coconut coffee in Hanoi, you must try Cafe Mia’s. Located on the quiet peninsula of Lang Yen Phu, Mia’s has uninterrupted views of some of Hanoi’s most famous lakeside landmarks such as the Tran Quoc Pagoda and Truc Bac. Set back from the busier southern aspect of the lake, you’re free to enjoy the view and relax. With authentic Vietnamese seating, it’s the perfect place to relax away from the hustle and madness of the fast-paced northern capital. At only 40K for an iced-coconut coffee and lovingly prepared with those irresistible coconut chips, it’s hard not to have a few, not to mention the rest of their wonderfully handcrafted menu!

Name: Cafe Mia’s

Location: Lan Yen Phu

Price: $

For a hot take on the coconut coffee, Galeria is the one to beat, with just the right amount of sweetness.

The venue itself is filled with different types of art, from their signature Kim meets Trump oil painting displayed out the front, to cultural Vietnamese moments captured in watercolour. Most of these unique pieces are available to purchase, with prices that won’t break the bank. They’re perfect for souvenirs or lasting memories of your visit. Not only is it super cosy on the inside, but you can also enjoy your coffee in the beautiful terraced garden out back, situated above a traditional Vietnamese communal courtyard.

Name: Galeria

Location: 172 Quan Thanh

Price: $$

Egg coffee

Surely not egg and coffee together? Sounds strange but give it a chance. Frothed, heated and sweetened egg yolks over a shot of espresso, mix well and it’s practically a dessert. You can even find certain egg coffee cafes serving an egg-beer or egg-rum. Well, when in Rome… 

The best and oldest egg-coffee places can be found in the old quarter of Hanoi. Find them down tight little alleyways, which feel like you’ve just walked into someone’s family living room or back to the 1950s, these are the best places for a traditional and brewed egg-coffee. For a delicious egg coffee made fresh, served hot, on a tealight stand, it has to be Cafe Năngs. 

Name: Cafe Năng

Location: 45 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Old Quarter

Price: $

Cafes worth a mention and coffees definitely worth a try!

Another treasure located along the bank of Hanoi’s West Lake is PingPong. Not only can you enjoy a delicious caramel macchiato here whilst admiring the misty views of the lake, but you can also browse around upstairs in their unique and tastefully modern independent furniture shop.

Name: Ping Pong

Location: 148 Tu Hoa, Quang An

Price: $$$

If you fancy being a tourist without funding multinational coffee chains, then The Note Coffee is the perfect place to stop! Wallpapered from top to bottom in a rainbow of sticky notes with personalised messages from coffee customers past. Order a drink and receive a fortune-cookie type note attached, what’s even better is you can write a note of your own and stick it, well, wherever!

Name: The Note Coffee

Location: 64 Luong Van Can Street, Old Quarter

Price: $$

Ready to feel refreshed without the caffeine induced need to climb the walls exorcist style? Then why not try my Cuong’s (of Cafe Mia’s) fabulous iced coconut coffee recipe:

Ingredients:

  • An espresso sized shot of Vietnamese (or your favourite) coffee
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • ½ Tsp Condensed milk (organic brown sugar – V)
  • A heap of ice
  • Sugared coconut chips (to sprinkle)
  • A glug of Whiskey or Baileys

Other utensils:

  • Metal straw
  • Blender
  • Spoon
  • Your most beachside feel glass

Method:

  • To execute this delight in the most traditional Vietnamese way, you’ll need to drip-filter the coffee using a Phin, but if you don’t have one to hand, a shot of your favourite strong-brew coffee will do just fine.
  • Whilst the coffee’s brewing, blend up your ice with the coconut and condensed milk, to create an ice-cream like mixture. For a vegan or dairy-free option you can substitute the condensed milk with some organic brown sugar for that caramelised sweetness.
  • First, add the shot of coffee followed by the ice mixture. The next choice is yours, add a shot of Baileys or Whiskey to add some summer vibes to your coconut delight or skip the shot and keep it straight-edged. 
  • This one (in our opinion) is mandatory; sugary coconut chips. Sprinkle generously on top.
  • Finally, as Cuong always says: “mix well” and enjoy!

More than just coffee. 

During the Vietnamese winter, when the rain is pouring, your feet are wrinkled, slipping around in your flip-flops and the prospect of developing trench foot feels like a very real concern. It can all feel a bit gloomy, but, worry no more. Taking a sip on these rich hot cocoas will brighten your day.

Good chocolate is a rarity in Vietnam, it’s mostly just chocolate flavoured candy, and if you’ve been spoilt with the deliciousness of real chocolate such as Cadburys, Galaxy or Kinder you know exactly what we’re talking about. So, having hot chocolates here is an indulgent affair. These little delights are made with real cocoa powder, thick, rich and dark, not too sweet, yet not too bitter. It’ll chase those rainy-day blues away in a sip.

Name: Doppio

Location: 52 Tu Ngoc VanPrice: $$

by Jasmin Knight

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